Solar contractor sues former customer to remove blog

A Big Island solar contractor is suing a former customer, seeking a court to order the Pahoa man to remove a blog from the internet that the contractor claims was “maliciously created … with the intent to cause financial harm.”

The suit, filed by Hilo attorney Al Thompson on behalf of Ryan Thompson — who, according to Al Thompson, isn’t related — dba Pro Solar Hawaii, accuses Chris Holm of defamation of character, libel, interference with commercial and economic relations and commercial disparagement. It seeks general and special damages in excess of $40,000, punitive damages, attorney’s fees and a court order requiring Holm to remove any internet posts he made about Ryan Thompson and Pro Solar Hawaii and to bar Holm from making any future posts of a similar nature.

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The suit claims that in April 2015, Holm created the blog “Moving to Hawaii” and “posted false and defamatory statements” about Thompson and his business practices “with the intent and purpose of causing the plaintiff financial ruin and loss.”

According to the suit, the blog “used the name Pro Solar Hawaii so many times that a Google search of Pro Solar Hawaii would direct internet traffic to the blog … .”

The litigation also alleges Holm “maliciously filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Yext.”

Attorney Thompson said Tuesday his client “basically wants (Holm) to remove the posts. That’s it.”

“He believes they’re defamatory and they go way beyond what we consider fair comment. They’re being done for a malicious purpose,” Al Thompson said. “Mr. Thompson believes the reasons for the blogs and the posts are basically to try and extort money from him, and we would like the blogs and the posts taken down.”

Holm countered by saying that five months after his solar system was installed, it was still inoperable.

“The reason for the blog was, hopefully, to get somebody else to see the problems I have, and hopefully, with whoever they hire to do a solar system, not have the same problem,” Holm said. “We paid for the solar system in full when he put everything on the house. He told me all we’re waiting for is the county inspection and (Hawaii Electric Light Co.) is going to come and change the meter. It wasn’t until five months later, after telling them, ‘Look, it’s been five months. I can’t show any savings because I haven’t turned the system on yet because the meter hasn’t been changed.’

“After five months, and I still didn’t have a working system, I didn’t think it was right.”

According to the suit, on July 31, 2014, Holm and Pro Solar entered into a contract to install a solar panel electrical system on the Nanawale Estates property owned by Holm and his mother.

An inspection on Jan. 12, 2015, by Pro Solar allegedly found that a microinverter — a device that converts direct current electricity from a single solar panel to alternating current, the U.S. household standard — wasn’t working. The suit claims Pro Solar told Holm it would get the needed part and return to fix the system.

The suit claims that on Feb. 4, 2015, Pro Solar’s sales manager sent Holm an email saying Ryan Thompson would be coming to Holm’s house to install the part. It alleges Ryan Thompson called Holm on Feb. 15 and left him a message that he was on his way.

When Ryan Thompson arrived at Holm’s residence on Feb. 15, Holm “then came running out … in his underwear and chased (Thompson) back to his car … fearing he may be assaulted,” according to the suit.

Thompson alleges Holm was screaming obscenities and told him to leave immediately and not return. Thompson claims he complied.

“As far as the incident when he said I came out in my underwear, his story and what really happened are two different things,” Holm responded. “February 15th that year was a Sunday morning. So he’s saying he came to my house on a Sunday morning at 8 o’clock? It just never happened.”

Holm does admit to a confrontation on another date, with him telling Ryan Thompson to leave his property because he “wanted somebody competent” to fix the problem.

The suit claims that after Ryan Thompson “reached out to” Holm and “sought some resolution to the ongoing defamatory posts,” Holm on Feb. 25, 2018, emailed Thompson in an attempt “to blackmail and extort various sums of money from” Thompson, “the greatest of which being the sum of $1 million for the removal of his defamatory posts.”

Holm said he told Thompson he’d take $40,000 each to remove two Yelp reviews — since removed by Yelp for duplication — and “$920,000 to edit my blog.” He said he didn’t take Thompson’s series of communications seriously and called his own reply “joking.” Holm called the allegation of extortion “just false.”

The suit also alleges that Holm created a second blog titled “Hawaii Solar Business Diary” and made six posts between March 1 and 12, 2018 “replete with false and defamatory statements” allegedly made after Holm complained to the Building Department and an electrical inspector “found everything done per plan and nothing wrong with work performed by” Pro Solar Hawaii.

Holm, in the “Moving to Hawaii” blog, described the litigation as “laughable” and said the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “allows consumers to publish negative reviews of companies/contractors which have given them inferior and/or faulty service.”

Holm said the work done by Pro Solar Hawaii “is without question not what was approved in the architect’s plans by the county.”

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“I can’t believe I’m going through this,” he said. “You spend $20,000 with what you think is a professional solar installer and it isn’t. It wasn’t professional at all. It wasn’t even professional accidentally.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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